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ESG Investing / Asset Management
Singapore IM group shifts from back to front foot
Reinvigorated IMAS pushes digitization, diversity, education, ESG post-pandemic
Tom King 14 Mar 2023

Over the past few years, the Investment Management Association of Singapore (IMAS) has undergone something of a metamorphosis, changing itself, along with the industry it represents, from a reactive old boys’ club that moved at a glacial pace to a pro-active, future-forward group spearheading industry development.

As part of that transformation, the representative body has embraced the digitization of the investment management industry, worked to embed environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing and sustainability into it, and rolled out a number of online initiatives to boost financial literacy and understanding of sustainable investing.

Added to that, the group’s executive committee now looks more like the city-state in terms of its diverse make-up of respected industry professionals.

IMAS and the Life Insurance Association Singapore (LIA) have also revamped a portal designed to assist investors in making informed decisions. The portal offers up-to-date and in-depth information on investment performance, risks and returns, and clear breakdowns of the fee structures of the over 9,500 funds distributed in Singapore.

The portal has been calibrated and several filters added so that investors can discover funds and create portfolios that match their investment, risk profile and, increasingly, sustainability values.

Challenges, changes

In January 2023, Jenny Sofian was appointed as chairman of the group’s executive committee. With three decades of industry experience, Sofian is currently the chief executive officer of Fullerton Fund Management, which means that for the first time in over 15 years someone from a homegrown fund house leads the group.

Alongside her, one of the movers behind the new direction at the IMAS is its deputy chairman Eleanor Seet. In her “day job” Seet is the president and head of Asia ex-Japan at Nikko Asset Management Asia.

Based in Singapore, she has oversight of Nikko’s Singapore and Hong Kong offices, managing 140 staff, and is perfectly placed to know what challenges and changes the asset management industry in Asia is facing. 

While numerous changes to the industry were already in the pipeline, Seet says, they were triggered and quickly expedited by the Covid pandemic. 

Last week, the IMAS hosted the latest edition of its annual conference in Singapore at which discussions focused on key industry themes, such as the significant influence of ESG investing, private assets and the shortage of talent with the required skillsets to cope with current growing trends.

Talent, education

In Seet’s IMAS and Nikko positions, one of her main concerns is cultivating and developing a steady stream of talent for the asset management industry. “Against the background of ongoing the geopolitical issues and market volatility, one of the biggest issues facing our industry is the workforce challenge, given the talent-based nature of our industry.”

The Singapore financial overseer, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, requires representatives of capital markets services licence holders to undergo continuing professional development (CPD) to keep abreast of developments in the industry and update skills and knowledge relevant to the activities they conduct.

With industry professionals stuck at home or in hotels during the pandemic, the CPD educational chain was broke or at least dented, meaning industry professionals could not easily access traditional channels. With a flurry of regulatory and other developments in sustainability and ESG to keep up with, it was a problem for the investment management industry in Singapore. 

In response, the IMAS and its partners fast-tracked the launch of IMAS iLearn, the online portal that has centralized the training programmes aimed at broadening and deepening asset manager skills and expertise.

“So, partly because of the pandemic, one of the things we've been looking at is the whole issue and structure of capabilities, as well as training, re-skilling and up-skilling,” Seet shares. “And, since the crisis, organic solutions have been developed for future structured e-learning training programmes.”

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